US Military



The Island of Shikoku in Japan is the birthplace of the most revered figure in Japanese Buddhism, the monk and teacher Kobo Daishi, who brought a populist form of Buddhism to Japan from China in the 9th Century.  For hundreds of years, a 750-mile pilgrimage route has circled this mountainous island, connecting 88 separate temples and shrines that claim connection to the Great Master Kobo Daishi.


Host Bruce Feiler circles the island, following a pilgrim trail that’s taken by hundreds of thousands of Japanese and international pilgrims every year – a Buddhist pilgrimage that welcomes pilgrims of all faiths.  While the majority now drive or travel by train or bus (a two-week journey), many still set aside 60 or more days to walk the entire route, especially in the spring when the cherry blossoms are in bloom and pilgrimage season is at its height. 


Temple priests introduce Bruce to sacred ceremonies that date back thousands of years, revealing how the presence of Kobo Daishi is believed to accompany all who follow in his footsteps.  Out on the pilgrim trail, Bruce meets with different American walkers – a hiking group from the Pacific Northwest, a retired soldier from California, and two recently-married doctors from Indiana – to learn why they’ve come to Shikoku and what they are hoping to find.





Host Bruce Feiler embeds with a group of active duty and retired US military, wounded in Afghanistan, Iraq and other American wars, as they travel to the Catholic shrine of Lourdes in Southwest France in search of healing.  More than five million pilgrims from around the world visit this shrine to the Virgin Mary every year to drink and bathe in the waters of a spring that Catholics believe has miraculous powers. The waters of the spring were uncovered by a young peasant girl named Bernadette during her vision of the Virgin Mary in 1858.


Some of the wounded warriors come to Lourdes as skeptics, and some with faith or at least an open mind.  Whether sharing their stories of war and recovery or finding healing in the camaraderie of fellow warriors, the weeklong pilgrimage allows the veterans to open up to others in a place whose primary focus is to ease suffering.